Had the world not been turned upside down by the coronavirus, this would be a very busy weekend for Lansing’s own Kyle Dake. The U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials were scheduled to take place on April 4 and 5 inside the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University. Instead, it is one of many events in the sports world to either be postponed or canceled in an attempt to minimize large gatherings.
Two weeks after that, it was announced that the Olympics as a whole would be moved to 2021, still set to take place in Tokyo, Japan. Dake, who is seeking his first-ever spot on the Olympic roster, was not surprised by the news of the delay.
“I found out about the postponement pretty much the same time everyone else did,” Dake said. “I had a feeling it was going to be postponed, especially with everything going on. … We had some hope that it would be Memorial Day Weekend and we’d still be able to make a push for the Olympics and it would be on schedule.”
That hope waned quickly for Dake after he was part of a video conference call with over 300 United States athletes. He found out that athletes from swimming and track and field were not given a chance to qualify for the Olympics. The sailing team would have been unable to get their equipment to Japan. The United States had no choice but to come out in favor of not holding the games.
Some athletes came out and said they would love to participate in the games this year, in spite of the pandemic. Dake would rather be on the safe side of history.
“It’s not about me or the 11,000 athletes who are the most elite athletes in the world coming together to compete,” Dake said. “It’s about when they go home. If there was one person who happened to slip through the cracks, whether it’s an athlete or a coach and they got into the Olympic Village and spread the disease, things would be ridiculous.”
Dake’s attitude during the pandemic has been to assume he’s asymptomatic and carrying the virus. He sees no issues with pushing the Olympics back a year. In fact, he said they’ll end up being better because of how the Olympics will bring the world together after the virus has been figured out.
“My vote was to postpone the games until we have a much better grasp on this,” Dake said. “Everyone will be on the same playing field again. It’s one year, so there are some people who will be old and ready to retire that are going to have to either stick it out or call it quits. I think it was the best decision for the games and for everybody. It’s a time for celebration. It’s not a time to not allow fans to come.”
For Dake personally, he is 29 years old and is approaching what should be the end of his athletic prime as a wrestler. However, Dake feels that he hasn’t peaked yet and is only getting better.
“At the end of the day, I’m ready,” Dake said. “I still feel ready to go if I need to go compete and make an Olympic team. I can do that. The awesome thing is, ever since 2017, when I came back from my shoulder surgery, I’ve been consistently getting better, stronger and faster. I feel like I’m pulling a Benjamin Button and getting younger. My body feels younger than it did in college. My mind is still sharp.”
That, of course, makes the 2024 games in Paris a potential option for Dake as well. He explained that this year’s Olympics being pushed back helps the chances of him trying again in 2024.
“This pushes you a year closer [to 2024],” Dake said. “After the games, you take some time off. Then all of a sudden, the Olympics aren’t that far away. The team trials are two and a half years after that. That seems like a blink of an eye. A lot of it depends on where I’m at with my family, my career. Have I accomplished what I want to accomplish? Do I have more left in the tank? Do I want to do it? Right now, I want to do it.”
During this time of social distancing and staying home, Dake has had to get creative to ensure that he stays as physically sharp as he says.
“I’m not allowed on the mats because Cornell’s basically closed,” Dake said. “I was able to bring some weights, some pulling machines to my house. Instead of my cars being in the garage, they’re in my driveway now, and my weight room is set up in the garage. I do a lot of cross-training in there. I run around the house with the dogs. I do some baby workouts. I do some EllaJo [Dake’s daughter] squats.”
Ultimately, nothing will steer Dake away from his ultimate goal.
“The goal remains the same,” Dake said. “I want to be [an] Olympic champion.”With the Olympics now set to take place starting July 23, 2021, Dake will have to maintain and even improve his current shape under odd conditions for the indefinite future. The determination that helped him become the only man in history to win four NCAA Championships in four different weight classes will be shining through.
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